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Google Classroom Revolutionizes Writing Classes
By: Fifth Grade Teacher Annie Menees
Diving Into Google Classroom
A little over two years since its release, Google Classroom has revolutionized education in many ways. Because Google launched the program at a seemingly inopportune time—right at the start of the 2014 school year—I was initially reluctant to implement it without having time to explore it beforehand. However, Rossman’s technology coordinator, Becky Taylor, assured me that it was a very user-friendly program, and fortunately, I decided to jump in head-first, figuring that my tech-savvy students and I could learn how best to use the new platform together.
Though I introduced it with the warning that we might experience some bumps along the way, my students and I were surprised by just how easy the transition proved to be! The sleek, streamlined design incorporates only the most essential features, making it visually uncluttered and incredibly intuitive to use. What’s more, Google Classroom allows teachers to give instant feedback to Google with screenshots and suggestions so that the program can be continuously improved. Ask, and you shall receive! I have been amazed by just how quickly Google has responded with updates that make the program increasingly useful to students and teachers alike.
Benefits to Writing Teachers
Google Classroom has proven to be a helpful tool for all teachers, but it is an invaluable asset to writing teachers. It eliminates age-old frustrations in the teaching of writing as a subject. Gone are the days when lost drafts, printing problems, and forgotten writing journals or flash drives interrupted the lesson for class that day. Gone are the days of teachers unnecessarily wasting time on the management of writing class—collecting papers, tracking down missing work, sorting assignments into piles, and filing drafts into portfolios. Gone are the days of constantly reminding students to organize their work by date, to include the prompt for each assignment, or to save their typed work often so that they wouldn’t lose an entire draft!
Now, teachers can access all student work from anywhere, print papers when they want, view the status of student work at any time, and provide proactive feedback in real-time. They can easily organize and communicate assignments in their posts, providing written instructions for students to refer back to, attaching supplemental documents, or connecting to websites or videos to support learning on a given topic. These assignments can then be re-used, tweaked or revamped from year to year, allowing the teacher unprecedented ability to organize and plan assignments without having to continually re-invent the wheel.
Benefits to Students
Google Classroom provides even greater benefits to students. All writing assignments can be completed in one virtual space that is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. Drafts are automatically saved every few minutes with no need to press the “save” button or worry about where to save the document. Even better, every single draft is automatically saved and easily accessible, allowing students, teachers and parents to view the progression of the work. Students no longer have to remember to take writing assignments or materials home or bring them back to school; they can just sit down and write!
All of these features combine to support the brain’s executive functioning, most notably by liberating working memory capacities. Students are able to focus more on writing—a productive language task that is difficult enough on its own. Progressing through the writing process, from pre-writing to drafting, revising, editing and publishing, is a lengthy ordeal for any given written assignment. Moreover, juggling the 6+1 Traits of Writing (ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, conventions and presentation) is challenging in its own right, especially considering that mastery of each one requires different conceptual understandings and execution of many sub-tasks while revising and editing. For example, “organization” covers everything from introductions to conclusions, ordering of ideas to transitions between ideas, while “conventions” includes capitalization, punctuation, grammar and spelling.
The nuances of the English language are tricky for most people to grasp, especially our younger learners. Thus, elementary students benefit greatly from this new technology that allows them to thrive as writers and not just survive the routines and procedures of writing class. They seem to look forward much more to writing class these days because they now have many more opportunities to share their writing and learn from and about one another!
Last year, I found two old documents that I used to use in my writing classes: “Instructions for Writing Journals” and “How To Succeed in Writing Class”. For fun, I crossed off all of the instructions that Google Classroom has eliminated and was truly amazed to find that all that remained on my lists were actions related to the actual task of writing: 1) Pay attention to each of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing, 2) Read your paper aloud several times before turning it in, 3) Revise, revise, revise! 4) Edit, edit, edit! 5) Seek out opportunities for peer conferences, and 6) Seek out opportunities for teacher conferences.
I find myself having so much more fun teaching writing with Google Classroom because I have more time to read my students’ many different assignments, getting to know them better through their work. I have time to write along with them, modeling not only how to complete an assignment, but how to have fun in the process! I have more time to plan mini-lessons on areas for improvement and find model texts for examples. As a class, we have more time to practice different types of writing (narrative, persuasive, descriptive, informative, creative) and forms of writing (essays, poems, letters, reports, stories, etc.). We have more time to learn together from partner shares, class shares, peer editing, individual conferences with the teacher and revising and editing in groups on the SmartBoard.
In this age of abundance of educational technology programs from which to choose, Google Classroom is one that provides many more benefits than drawbacks. It allows teachers to keep the old-fashioned, time-tested approaches to teaching and learning writing while eliminating frustrations and hindrances with the advantages of new technology. The result is that we have more time and energy now to master and enjoy the subject matter! This winter break, ask your Upper School student to show you some of their work on Google Classroom. If you haven’t already seen the program, I think you will be similarly impressed by all that it has to offer!